After an urgent meeting early last Wednesday with Vice Chancellor Gomez, Verano Place residents breathed sighs of relief when Gomez announced a decrease in rental rates from an eight percent increase to four percent.
Verano Place is a graduate and family apartment complex consisting of 862 apartments and housing nearly 2,300 residents.
The affordability concern has been a significant topic over the past years, which have seen continuous rate increases. However, the anxiety escalated on May 15 when residents received another notice of an eight percent increase, going along with a convergence plan to bring the pricing of Verano Place in line with Palo Verde. The two primary causes of the increase were energy costs and an anticipated increase in grounds-keeping costs.
Stephen Carter, a third-year economics graduate student, and his wife Nancy Carter, took the initiative to start a petition and letter campaign to get the attention of the administration and push for a reform.
‘We started this campaign because the reason they were raising the rates of Verano was to be comparable to Palo Verde,’ Nancy said. ‘But if you asked anyone that was living in Verano, that was outrageous because why would you want to pay the same thing in Verano as brand new apartments in Palo Verde? They’re not the same and not maintained the same. ‘
The couple gathered approximately 280 signatures on the petition, and many people sent letters of complaint to the UC Irvine administration.
‘It is almost impossible to make ends meet with the current rent,’ said one petitioner. ‘An increase in rent would mean substantial cutbacks in our daily food [budget]. Our salaries have not changed for several years. Many of us don’t have fully-funded positions, and we have a family to support.’
Stephen and Nancy held a meeting with Verano residents a week before engaging with Gomez to get preliminary feedback.
‘When we had our original meeting, Stephen and I led a meeting, and I asked everyone, ‘Has anyone seen an improvement in the eight percent increase they charged us the year before?’ and and their answer was no.’ Nancy said. ‘If anything, we’ve seen a decrease in living at Verano. So where is the money going?’
On May 25, approximately 100 Verano residents met with Gomez and some student affairs and housing administration officials. The discussion mainly consisted of a Q-and-A session about the rate increase.
‘Some answers did not satisfy the curiosity of the question, but the important thing is that [Gomez] heard our concerns and he promised to go back and look back at the budget,’ Carter said.
‘We had a constructive exchange and very helpful insights were provided by the graduate students,’ Gomez said. ‘I shared my views directly with the students.’
Less than a week later, Gomez sent out an e-mail to all Verano residents announcing a four percent increase rather than eight percent, made possible by cutting costs related to insourcing of maintenance workers. The message also noted that additional housing issues would be addressed in the future.
Carter was pleased with the recent news and commended Gomez.
‘In the past, graduate students and the administration were always seen butting heads about what they think is best, but the fact that [Gomez] actually came through after hearing our concerns